Indo-European migrations

Scheme of Indo-European migrations from c. 4000 to 1000 BCE according to the Kurgan hypothesis.
* The magenta area corresponds to the assumed Urheimat (Samara culture, Sredny Stog culture) and the subsequent Yamna culture.
* The red area corresponds to the area which may have been settled by Indo-European-speaking peoples up to c. 2500 BCE.
* The orange area to 1000 BCE.[1]
The Proto-Indo-European homeland according to the steppe hypothesis (dark green) and the present-day distribution of Indo-European languages in Eurasia (light green).

According to the widely accepted Kurgan hypothesis, the Indo-European language and culture spread in several stages from the Proto-Indo-European Eurasian homeland in the Pontic steppes, into Western Europe, Central and South Asia. This process started with the introduction of cattle at the Eurasian steppes around 5200 BCE, which led to a new kind of culture. Between 4500 and 2000 BCE, this "horizon", which includes several distinctive cultures, spread out over the Pontic steppes, and outside into Europe and Asia.



The Proto-Indo-European Urheimat hypotheses are tentative identifications of the Urheimat, or primary homeland, of the hypothetical Proto-Indo-European language. Such identifications attempt to be consistent with the glottochronology of the language tree and with the archaeology of those places and times. Identifications are made on the basis of how well, if at all, the projected migration-routes and times of migration fit the distribution of Indo-European languages, and how closely the sociological model of the original society reconstructed from Proto-Indo-European lexical items fits the archaeological profile.

Beginning in the 1970s, the mainstream consensus among Indo-Europeanists favors the "Kurgan hypothesis", placing the Indo-European homeland in the Pontic steppe of the Chalcolithic period (4th to 5th millennia BCE). The Pontic steppe is a large area of grasslands in far Eastern Europe, located north of the Black Sea, Caucasus Mountains and Caspian Sea and including parts of eastern Ukraine, southern Russia and northwest Kazakhstan. This is the time and place of the earliest domestication of the horse, which according to this hypothesis was the work of early Indo-Europeans, allowing them to expand outwards and assimilate or conquer many other cultures.

The primary competitor is the Anatolian hypothesis advanced by Colin Renfrew. It states that the Indo-European languages began to spread peacefully into Europe from Asia Minor (modern Turkey) from around 7000 BCE with the Neolithic advance of farming (wave of advance).

All hypotheses assume a significant period (at least 1500–2000 years) between the time of the Proto-Indo-European language and the earliest attested texts, at Kültepe, c. 19th century BCE.

Steppe theory

Kurgan hypothesis
The development of the Kurgan culture according to Marija Gimbutas' Kurgan hypothesis.
Main article: Kurgan hypothesis

The Kurgan hypothesis (also theory or model) is one of the proposals about early Indo-European origins, which postulates that the people of an archaeological "Kurgan culture" (a term grouping the Yamna, or Pit Grave, culture and its predecessors) in the Pontic steppe were the most likely speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language. The term is derived from kurgan (курган), a Turkic loanword in Russian for a tumulus or burial mound. The Kurgan model is the most widely accepted scenario of Indo-European origins.[2][3]

The Kurgan hypothesis was first formulated in the 1950s by Marija Gimbutas, who defined the "Kurgan culture" as composed of four successive periods, with the earliest (Kurgan I) including the Samara and Seroglazovo cultures of the Dnieper/Volga region in the Copper Age (early 4th millennium BC). The bearers of these cultures were nomadic pastoralists, who, according to the model, by the early 3rd millennium BC expanded throughout the Pontic-Caspian steppe and into Eastern Europe.[4]

"Revised Steppe theory"

David Anthony has incorporated recent developments in his "revised steppe theory," which also supports a steppe origin of the Indo-European languages.[5][6] Anthony emphasizes the Yamnaya culture as the origin of the Indo-European dispersal.[5][6] Recent research by Haak et al. (2015) confirms the migration of Yamnaya-people into western Europe, forming the Corded Ware culture.[7]


Main article: Proto-Indo-Europeans

The Proto-Indo-Europeans were the speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE), a reconstructed prehistoric language of Eurasia.

Knowledge of them comes chiefly from the linguistic reconstruction, along with material evidence from archaeology and archaeogenetics. According to some archaeologists, PIE speakers cannot be assumed to have been a single, identifiable people or tribe, but were a group of loosely related populations ancestral to the later, still partially prehistoric, Bronze Age Indo-Europeans. This view is held especially by those archaeologists who posit an original homeland of vast extent and immense time depth. However, this view is not shared by linguists, as proto-languages generally occupy small geographical areas over a very limited time span, and are generally spoken by close-knit communities such as a single small tribe.

The Proto-Indo-Europeans were likely to have lived during the late Neolithic, or roughly the 4th millennium BCE. Mainstream scholarship places them in the forest-steppe zone immediately to the north of the western end of the Pontic-Caspian steppe in Eastern Europe. Some archaeologists would extend the time depth of PIE to the middle Neolithic (5500 to 4500 BCE) or even the early Neolithic (7500 to 5500 BC), and suggest alternative Proto-Indo-European Urheimats.

By the late 3rd millennium BC, offshoots of the Proto-Indo-Europeans had reached Anatolia (Hittites), the Aegean (Mycenaean Greece), Western Europe, and southern Siberia (Afanasevo culture).[8]

Root populations

The proto-Indo-Europeans, c.q. the Yamnaya people, seem to have been a mix from eastern European hunter-gatherers and people related to the near east,[9] c.q. Caucasus hunter-gatherers[10] c.q. Iran Chalcolithic people with a Caucasian hunter-gatherer component.[11][11][note 1]

According to Haak et al. (2015), "the Yamnaya steppe herders of this time were descended not only from the preceding eastern European hunter-gatherers, but from a population of Near Eastern ancestry."[9]

According to Jones et al. (2015), Caucasus hunter-gatherers (CHG) "genomes significantly contributed to the Yamnaya steppe herders who migrated into Europe ~3,000 BC, supporting a formative Caucasus influence on this important Early Bronze age culture. CHG left their imprint on modern populations from the Caucasus and also central and south Asia possibly marking the arrival of Indo-Aryan languages."[10][note 2]

According to Lazaridis et al. (2016), "a population related to the people of the Iran Chalcolithic contributed ~43% of the ancestry of early Bronze Age populations of the steppe."[11] According to Lazaridis et al. (2016), these Iranian Chacolithic people were a mixture of "the Neolithic people of western Iran, the Levant, and Caucasus Hunter Gatherers."[11][note 3]


The Indo-Hittite hypothesis postulates a common predecessor for both the Anatolian languages and the other indo-European languages, called Indi-Hittite or Indo-Anatolian.[5] Although it's obvious that PIE had predecessors,[13] the Indo-Hittite hypothesis is not widely accepted, and there is little to suggest that it is possible to reconstruct a proto-Indo-Hittite stage that differes substantially from what is already reconstructed for PIE.

According to Kortlandt, Indo-Uralic is the pre-PIE, postulating that Indo-European and Uralic share a common ancestor.[14] According to Kortlandt, "Indo-European is a branch of Indo-Uralic which was radically transformed under the influence of a North Caucasian substratum when its speakers moved from the area north of the Caspian Sea to the area north of the Black Sea."[14][note 4][note 5] Anthony notes that the validity of such deep relationships cannot be reliably demonstrated due to the time-depth involved, and also notes that the similarities may be explained by borrowings from PIE into proto-Uralic.[13] Yet, Anthony also notes that the North Caucasian communities "were southern participants in the steppe world."[5]


Indo-European languages

The Indo-European languages are a family of several hundred related languages and dialects. There are about 439 languages and dialects, according to the 2009 Ethnologue estimate, about half (221) belonging to the Indo-Aryan subbranch.[web 1] It includes most major current languages of Europe, the Iranian plateau, and the northern half of the Indian Subcontinent, and Sri Lanka (Sinhala) was also predominant in ancient Anatolia. With written attestations appearing since the Bronze Age in the form of the Anatolian languages and Mycenaean Greek, the Indo-European family is significant to the field of historical linguistics as possessing the second-longest recorded history, after the Afro-Asiatic family.

Indo-European languages are spoken by almost 3 billion native speakers,[web 2] the largest number by far for any recognised language family. Of the 20 languages with the largest numbers of native speakers according to SIL Ethnologue, 12 are Indo-European: Spanish, English, Hindi, Portuguese, Bengali, Russian, German, Punjabi, Marathi, French, Urdu, Italian, accounting for over 1.7 billion native speakers.[web 3] Several disputed proposals link Indo-European to other major language families.

Proto-Indo-European language

The Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) is the linguistic reconstruction of a common ancestor of the Indo-European languages spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans. PIE was the first proposed proto-language to be widely accepted by linguists. Far more work has gone into reconstructing it than any other proto-language and it is by far the most well-understood of all proto-languages of its age. During the 19th century, the vast majority of linguistic work was devoted to reconstruction of Proto-Indo-European or its daughter proto-languages such as Proto-Germanic, and most of the current techniques of historical linguistics (e.g. the comparative method and the method of internal reconstruction) were developed as a result.

Scholars estimate that PIE may have been spoken as a single language (before divergence began) around 3500 BC, though estimates by different authorities can vary by more than a millennium. The most popular hypothesis for the origin and spread of the language is the Kurgan hypothesis, which postulates an origin in the Pontic-Caspian steppe of Eastern Europe.

The existence of PIE was first postulated in the 18th century by Sir William Jones, who observed the similarities between Sanskrit, Ancient Greek, and Latin. By the early 20th century, well-defined descriptions of PIE had been developed that are still accepted today (with some refinements). The largest developments of the 20th century have been the discovery of Anatolian and Tocharian languages and the acceptance of the laryngeal theory. The Anatolian languages have also spurred a major re-evaluation of theories concerning the development of various shared Indo-European language features and the extent to which these features were present in PIE itself.

PIE is thought to have had a complex system of morphology that included inflections (suffixing of roots, as in who, whom, whose), and ablaut (vowel alterations, as in sing, sang, sung). Nouns used a sophisticated system of declension and verbs used a similarly sophisticated system of conjugation.

Relationships to other language families, including the Uralic languages, have been proposed but remain controversial.

There is no written evidence of Proto-Indo-European, so all knowledge of the language is derived by reconstruction from later languages using linguistic techniques such as the comparative method and the method of internal reconstruction.

Genesis of Indo-European languages

Using a mathematical analysis borrowed from evolutionary biology, Don Ringe and Tandy Warnow propose the following evolutionary tree of Indo-European branches:[19]

David Anthony, following the methodology of Ringe and Warnow, proposes the following sequence:[21]

Ringe and Warnow's methodology may be outdated, and not accurately reflect the development of the IE languages.

Elite recruitment and language shift

According to Marija Gimbutas, the process of "Indo-Europeanization" of Europe was essentially a cultural, not a physical transformation.[22] It is understood as Yamnaya migration to Europe, as military victors in terms of successfully imposing a new administrative system, language and religion upon the indigenous groups.[23][note 6] [note 7] The social organization greatly facilitated the Yamnaya people’s effectiveness in war, their patrilinear and patriarchal structure. [24][note 8] The Old Europeans (indigenous groups) had neither a warrior class nor horses.[25] They lived in (probably) theocratic monarchies presided over by a queen-priestess;[26][note 9] this Old European social structure contrasted with Yamnaya Indo-European arrivals.[27][28]

Indo-European languages probably spread through language shifts.[29][30] Small groups can change a larger cultural area,[31][5] and elite male dominance by small groups may have led to a language shift in northern India.[32][33][34]

According to Guus Kroonen, Indo-Europeans encountered existing populations that spoke dissimilar, unrelated languages when they migrated to Europe from Yamnaya steppes.[35] Relatively little is known about the Pre-Indo-European linguistic landscape of Europe, except for Basque, as the "Indo-Europeanization" of Europe caused a largely unrecorded, massive linguistic extinction event, most likely through language-shift.[35] Guss Kroonens' study reveals that Pre-Indo-European speech contains a clear Neolithic signature emanating from the Aegean language family and thus patterns with the prehistoric migration of Europe’s first farming populations.[36]

According to Edgar Polomé, 30% of non-Indo-European substratum found in modern German derives from non-Indo-European-speakers of Funnelbeaker Culture indigenous to southern Scandinavia.[37] When Yamnaya Indo-European speakers came into contact with the indigenous peoples during the 3rd millennium BC, they came to dominate the local populations yet parts of the indigenous lexicon persisted in the formation of Proto-Germanic, thus giving German the status of being an Indo-Europeanized language.[38] According to Marija Gimbutas, Corded Ware cultures migration to Scandinavia "synthesized" with the Funnelbeaker culture, giving birth to the Proto-Germanic language.[22]

David Anthony, in his "revised Steppe hypothesis"[39] notes that the spread of the Indo-European languages probably did not happen through "chain-type folk migrations," but by the introduction of these languages by ritual and political elites, which were emulated by large groups of people,[40][note 10] a process which he calls "elite recruitment".[42]

According to Parpola, local elites joined "small but powerfull groups" of Indo-European speaking migrants.[29] These migrants had an attractive social system and good weapons, and luxury goods which marked their status and power. Joining these groups was attractive for local leaders, since it strengthened their position, and gave them additional advantages.[43] These new members were further incorporated by matrimonial alliances.[44][30]

According to Joseph Salmons, language shift is facilitated by "dislocation" of language communities, in which the elite is taken over.[45] According to Salmons, this change is facilitated by "systematic changes in community structure," in which a local community becomes incorporated in a larger social structure.[45][note 11]

Sequence of diffusion and migrations

Urheimat - Steppe theory (4500-2500 BCE)

Most scholars agree that the area of the "Kurgan culture", as proposed by Marija Gimbutas, is the area of the "Urheimat" of the Indo-Europeans.[5][48] From this "Urheimat", Indo-European languages spread throughout the Eurasian steppes between c. 4,500 and 2,500 BCE.[5]

Kurgan hypothesis

Marija Gimbutas formulated her Kurgan hypothesis in the 1950s, grouping together a number of related cultures at the Pontic steppes. Her grouping is nowadays considered to have been too broad. According to Anthony, it is better to speak of the Yamna culture or "horizon", which included several related cultures, as the defining Proto-Indo-European culture at the Pontic steppe.[5]

According to the Kurgan hypothesis, the diffusion of the Proto-Indo Europeans (PIE) from the "Urheimat" took place in the following sequence:

According to Gimbutas, the Corded Ware formed part of a homogenous Indo-European culture, which existed until 2500 BCE. This proposition was rejected by Mallory,[49] but is confirmed by Haak et al. (2015).[7]

According to the Kurgan hypothesis, the western Indo-European languages split off after 2500 BCE. According to Anthony, the early migrations started earlier, with migrations into the Danube Valley at 4000 BCE, and migrations southward and eastward in the 3rd millennium BCE.[5]

Revised Steppe theory

According to Anthony, between 3100-2800/2600 BCE, a real folk migration of Proto-Indo-European speakers from the Yamna-culture took place into the Danube Valley.[50] These migrations probably split off Pre-Italic, Pre-Celtic and Pre-Germanic from Proto-Indo-European.[51]

Anatolia: Hittite (4500-3500 BCE)

Hittite belongs to the oldest written Indo-European languages, the Anatolian branch.[52] Although the Hittites are placed in the 2nd millennium BCE,[53] the Anatolian branch seems to predate Proto-Indo-European, and may have developed form an older Pre-Proto-Indo-European ancestor.[54] If it separated from Proto-Indo-European, it is likely to have done so between 4500-3500 BCE.[55]

Europe: Danube Valley and the "collapse of Old Europe" (4200-4000 BCE)

According to Anthony, steppe herders, archaic Proto-Indo-European speakers, spread into the lower Danube valley about 4200-4000 BCE, either causing or taking advantage of the collapse of Old Europe.[56]

Asia: Maykop culture, Afanasevo culture, Tocharians (3500-2500 BCE)

According to Mallory and Adams, migrations southward founded the Maykop culture (c. 3500–2500 BCE),[57] and eastward the Afanasevo culture (c. 3500–2500 BCE),[58] which developed into the Tocharians (c. 3700–3300 BCE).[59] Yet, according to Mariya Ivanova the Maikop origins were on the Iranian Plateau,[60] while kurgans from the beginning of the 4th millennium BC at Soyuqbulaq in Azerbaijan, which belong to the Leyla-Tepe culture, show parallels with the Maikop kurgans. According to Museyibli, "the Leylatepe Culture tribes migrated to the north in the mid-fourth millennium, B.C. and played an important part in the rise of the Maikop Culture of the North Caucasus."[61]

Europe: Danube Valley (3100-2800/2600 BCE) and Corded Ware culture (3100-2500 BCE)

According to Anthony, between 3100-2800/2600 BCE, a real folk migration of Proto-Indo-European speakers from the Yamna-culture took place toward the west, into the Danube Valley.[50] These migrations probably split off Pre-Italic, Pre-Celtic and Pre-Germanic from Proto-Indo-European.[51] According to Parpola, this migration is related to the appearance of Indo-European speakers from Europe into Anatolia, and the appearance of Hittite.[62] According to Anthony, this was followed by a movement north, which split away Baltic-Slavic at c. 2800 BCE.[63] Pre-Armenian split off at the same time.[21]

The Corded Ware culture in Middle Europe (ca. 2900–2450/2350 cal. BC),[64] has been associated with some of the Indo-European family of languages. According to Haak et al. (2015) a massive migration took place from the Eurasian steppes to Central Europe. This migration is closely associated with the Corded Ware culture.[7][web 6][web 7]

Sintashta, Andronovo and the Indo-Iranians (2100-1500 BCE)

The Indo-Iranian language and culture emerged in the Sintashta culture (c. 2100–1800 BCE), where the chariot was invented.[5] The Indo-Iranian language and culture was further developed in the Andronovo culture (c. 1800–1400 BCE), and influenced by the Bactria–Margiana Archaeological Complex (c. 2300–1700 BCE). The Indo-Aryans split off around 1800–1600 BCE from the Iranians,[65] whereafter Indo-Aryan groups moved to the Levant (Mitanni), northern India (Vedic people, c. 1500 BCE), and China (Wusun).[48] Thereafter the Iranians migrated into Iran.[48]

Archaic Proto-Indo-European - The Anatolian branch (Hittites)

The Hittite Empire at its greatest extent under Suppiluliuma I (c. 1350–1322 BC) and Mursili II (c. 1321–1295 BC)
Main articles: Anatolians and Hittites

The Anatolians were a group of distinct Indo-European peoples who spoke the Anatolian languages and shared a common culture.[66][67][68][69][70] The Anatolian languages were a branch of the larger Indo-European language family.

Although the Hittites are placed in the 2nd millennium BCE,[53] the Anatolian branch seems to predate Proto-Indo-European, and may have developed from an older Pre-Proto-Indo-European ancestor.[54] If it separated from Proto-Indo-European, it likely did so between 4500-3500 BCE.[55]

The archeological discovery of the archives of the Hittites and the belonging of the Hittite language to a separate Anatolian branch of the Indo-European languages caused a sensation among historians, forcing a re-evaluation of Near Eastern history and Indo-European linguistics.[70] In accordance with the Kurgan hypothesis, J. P. Mallory notes in Encyclopedia of Indo-European Culture that it is likely that the Anatolians reached the Near East from the north, either via the Balkans or the Caucasus in the 3rd millennium BC.[70] Together with the Tocharians, the Anatolians constituted the first known wave of Indo-European emigrants out of the Eurasian steppe.[71] Although they had wagons, they probably emigrated before Indo-Europeans had learned to use chariots for war.[71] It is likely that their arrival was one of gradual settlement and not as an invading army.[66] The Anatolians' earliest linguistic and historical attestation are as names mentioned in Assyrian mercantile texts from 19th-century BC Kanesh.[66]

The Hittites, who established an extensive empire in the Middle East in the 2nd millennium BC, are by far the best known members of the Anatolian group. The history of the Hittite civilization is known mostly from cuneiform texts found in the area of their kingdom, and from diplomatic and commercial correspondence found in various archives in Egypt and the Middle East. Despite the use of Hatti for their core territory, the Hittites should be distinguished from the Hattians, an earlier people who inhabited the same region (until the beginning of the 2nd millennium BC). The Hittite military made successful use of chariots.[web 8] Although belonging to the Bronze Age, they were the forerunners of the Iron Age, developing the manufacture of iron artifacts from as early as the 14th century BC, when letters to foreign rulers reveal the latter's demand for iron goods. The Hittite empire reached its height during the mid-14th century BC under Suppiluliuma I, when it encompassed an area that included most of Asia Minor as well as parts of the northern Levant and Upper Mesopotamia. After 1180 BC, amid the Bronze Age Collapse in the Levant associated with the sudden arrival of the Sea Peoples, the kingdom disintegrated into several independent "Neo-Hittite" city-states, some of which survived until as late as the 8th century BC. The lands of the Anatolian peoples were successively invaded by a number of peoples and empires at high frequency: the Phrygians, Bithynians, the Medes, the Persians, the Greeks, the Galatian Celts, Romans and the Oghuz Turks. Many of these invaders settled in Anatolia, in some cases causing the extinction of the Anatolian languages. By the Middle Ages, all the Anatolian languages (and the cultures accompanying them) were extinct, although there may be lingering influences on the modern inhabitants of Anatolia, most notably Armenians.

Europe - Danube Valley (4200 BCE)

According to Anthony, steppe herders, archaic Proto-Indo-European speakers, spread into the lower Danube valley about 4200-4000 BCE, either causing or taking advantage of the collapse of Old Europe.[56]

Asia (3500-2500 BCE)

Maikop culture

Main article: Maikop culture

The Maykop culture (also spelled Maikop), c. 3700 BC3000 BC,[72] was a major Bronze Age archaeological culture in the Western Caucasus region of Southern Russia.

It extends along the area from the Taman Peninsula at the Kerch Strait to near the modern border of Dagestan and southwards to the Kura River. The culture takes its name from a royal burial found in Maykop kurgan in the Kuban River valley.

Afanasevo culture

The geographic area the Afanasevo culture covered
Main article: Afanasevo culture

The Afanasievo culture is the earliest Eneolithic archaeological culture found until now in south Siberia, occupying the Minusinsk Basin, Altay and Eastern Kazakhstan. It is commonly related to Indo-European culture, and related to the Tocharians.[73]

radiocarbon gives dates as early as 3705 BC on wooden tools and 2874 BC on human remains for the Afanasievo culture.[web 9] The earliest of these dates have now been rejected, giving a date of around 3300 BC for the start of the culture.[74]

The Tocharians

Main articles: Tocharians and Tocharian languages

The Tocharians, or "Tokharians" (/təˈkɛəriənz/ or /təˈkɑːriənz/) were inhabitants of medieval oasis city-states on the northern edge of the Tarim Basin (modern Xinjiang, China). Their Tocharian languages (a branch of the Indo-European family) are known from manuscripts from the 6th to 8th centuries AD, after which they were supplanted by the Turkic languages of the Uyghur tribes. These people were called "Tocharian" by late 19th-century scholars who identified them with the Tókharoi described by ancient Greek sources as inhabiting Bactria. Although this identification is now generally considered mistaken, the name has become customary.

The Tocharians are thought to have developed from the Afanasevo culture of eastern Siberia (c. 3500 – 2500 BC).[73] It is believed that the Tarim mummies, discovered from 1800 BC, represent an migration of Tocharian speakers from the Afanasevo culture in the Tarim Basin in the early 2nd millennium BC.[75] By the end of the 2nd millennium BC, the dominant people as far east as the Altai Mountains southward to the northern outlets of the Tibetan Plateau were Europoid, with the northern part speaking Iranian Scythian languages and the southern parts Tocharian languages, having Mongoloid populations as their northeastern neighbors.[76][77] These two groups were in competition with each other until the latter overcame the former.[77] The turning point occurred around the 5th to 4th centuries BC with a gradual Mongolization of Siberia, while Central Asia remained Europoid and Indo-European-speaking until well into the 1st millennium AD.[78]

The Indo-European eastward expansion in the 2nd millennium BC had a significant influence on Chinese culture.[79] It is little doubt that the chariot entered China through the Central Asia and the Northern Steppe, possibly indicating some form of contact with the Indo-Europeans.[80] Recent archaeological finds have shown that the late Shang Dynasty used horses, chariots, bows and practiced horse burials very similar to the steppe peoples to the west.[81][82] Indo-European technological influence on Chinese culture at the time include the introduction of the domesticated horse,[79][83] iron technology.[79][84] and wheeled vehicles[85][86][87][88] Other cultural influences resulting from Indo-European influence include fighting styles, head-and-hoof rituals, art motifs and myths.[82] These significant Indo-European influences on China at the time have led the Sinologist Christopher I. Beckwith to propose that the "idea of writing" in Shang China might have been a result of Indo-European influence,[79][86] that Indo-Europeans "may even have been responsible for the foundation of the Shang Dynasty,"[79] and that Old Chinese of the Oracle bone script contained influences from Indo-European languages.[79] While the Old Chinese word for honey is generally accepted as a loanword from Tocharian, Beckwith suggests that many more Old Chinese words are of Tocharian origin, claiming a similar Indo-European influence on Tibeto-Burman.[79]

Christopher I. Beckwith proposes that the name of the Qiang, the main foreign enemies of the Shang Dynasty, has an Indo-European etymology. From the modern Chinese Qiang (Chinese: ; pinyin: Qiāng; Wade–Giles: Ch'iang), Sinologist Edwin G. Pulleyblank reconstructs the Old Chinese *klaŋ, which Beckwith compares to the Tocharian word klānk, meaning "to ride, go by wagon", as in "to ride off to hunt from a chariot", so that Qiang could actually mean "charioteer".[89] The Oracle Bones note that the Qiang were skilled charioteers and makers of Oracle Bones.[79] According to Beckwith, it is possible that the clan (Jiang) of Jiang Yuan, mother of Houji, founder of the Zhou dynasty, which succeeded the Shang, was related or identical to the Qiang.[79]

The Sinologist Edwin G. Pulleyblank has suggested that the Yuezhi, the Wusun the Dayuan, the Kangju and the people of Yanqi, could have been Tocharian-speaking.[90] Of these the Yuezhi are generally held to have been Tocharians.[91] The Yuezhi were originally settled in the arid grasslands of the eastern Tarim Basin area, in what is today Xinjiang and western Gansu, in China. After the Yuezhi were defeated by the Xiongnu, in the 2nd century BC, a small group, known as the Little Yuezhi, fled to the south, later spawning the Jie people who dominated the Later Zhao until their complete extermination by Ran Min in the Wei–Jie war. The majority of the Yuezhi however migrated west to the Ili Valley, where they displaced the Sakas (Scythians). Driven from the Ili Valley shortly afterwards by the Wusun, the Yuezhi migrated to Sogdia and then Bactria, where they are often identified with the Tókharoi (Τοχάριοι) and Asioi of Classical sources. They then expanded into northern South Asia, where one branch of the Yuezhi founded the Kushan Empire. The Kushan empire stretched from Turfan in the Tarim Basin to Pataliputra on the Gangetic plain at its greatest extent, and played an important role in the development of the Silk Road and the transmission of Buddhism to China. Tocharian languages continued to be spoken in the city-states of the Tarim Basin, only becoming extinct in the Middle Ages.


The Danube Valley and Pre-Italic, Pre-Celtic and Pre-Germanic

According to Anthony, between 3100-2800/2600 BCE, a real folk migration of Proto-Indo-European speakers from the Yamna-culture took place into the Danube Valley.[50] These migrations probably split-off Pre-Italic, Pre-Celtic and Pre-Germanic from Proto-Indo-European.[51]

Corded Ware culture

Approximate extent of the Corded Ware horizon with adjacent 3rd-millennium cultures (after EIEC).
Main articles: Corded Ware and Bronze Age Europe

The Corded Ware culture in Middle Europe (c. 3,200[49]/2,900[web 10] – 2450/2350 cal.[web 10][49] BCE) has been associated with some of the Indo-European family of languages. According to Mallory and Adams, writing in 1997, "today, this theory has little currency."[49] Yet recent research by Haak et al. confirms that a massive migration took place from the Eurasian steppes to Central Europe. This migration is closely associated with the Corded Ware culture.[7][web 6][web 7]

Around 2400 BCE the people of the Corded Ware replaced their predecessors and expanded to Danubian and Nordic areas of western Germany. A related branch invaded Denmark and southern Sweden.

In places a continuity between Funnelbeaker and Corded Ware can be demonstrated, whereas in other areas Corded Ware heralds a new culture and physical type.[92] According to Cunliffe, most of the expanse was clearly intrusive.[93] The intrusive elements have been linked to Indo-Europeanization, but recent archaeological studies have described them in terms of local continuity, which has led some archaeologists to declare the Kurgan hypothesis "obsolete".[94]


The expansion of the Germanic tribes 750 BC – AD 1 (after the Penguin Atlas of World History 1988):
   Settlements before 750 BC
   New settlements by 500 BC
   New settlements by 250 BC
   New settlements by AD 1

Germanic peoples

Main article: Germanic peoples

The Germanic peoples (also called Teutonic, Suebian or Gothic in older literature) are[95] an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group of Northern European origin, identified by their use of the Germanic languages which diversified out of Proto-Germanic starting during the Pre-Roman Iron Age.[web 11]

The term "Germanic" originated in classical times, when groups of tribes were referred to using this term by Roman authors. For them, the term was not necessarily based upon language, but rather referred to tribal groups and alliances who were considered less civilised than the Celtic Gauls living in the region of modern France. Tribes referred to as Germanic in that period lived generally to the north and east of the Gauls.

In modern times the term occasionally has been used to refer to ethnic groups who speak a Germanic language and claim ancestral and cultural connections to ancient Germanic peoples.[96] Within this context, modern Germanic peoples include the Norwegians, Swedes, Danes, Icelanders, Germans, Austrians, English, Dutch, Afrikaners, Flemish, Frisians and others.[97][98][web 12]

Germanic languages

The Germanic languages are a branch of the Indo-European language family spoken by a sizable population in Western Europe, North America, and Australasia. The common ancestor of all of the languages in this branch is called Proto-Germanic (also known as Common Germanic), which was spoken in approximately the middle of the 1st millennium BC in Iron Age northern Europe. Proto-Germanic, along with all of its descendants, is characterized by a number of unique linguistic features, most famously the consonant change known as Grimm's law. Early varieties of Germanic enter history with the Germanic tribes moving south from northern Europe in the 2nd century BC, to settle in north-central Europe.

The most widely spoken Germanic languages are English and German, with approximately 300–400 million native English speakers[web 13][99] and over 100 million native German speakers.[100] They belong to the West Germanic family. The West Germanic group also includes other major languages, such as Dutch with 23 million,[web 14] Low Saxon with approximately 5 million speakers in Germany[web 15] and 1.7 million in the Netherlands,[101] and Afrikaans with over 6 million native speakers.[102] The North Germanic languages include Norwegian, Danish, Swedish, Icelandic, and Faroese, which have a combined total of about 20 million speakers.[103] There is also the East Germanic branch, which includes languages such as Gothic, Burgundian, and Vandalic, but it has been extinct for at least two centuries. The SIL Ethnologue lists 48 different living Germanic languages, with the Western branch accounting for 42, and the Northern for 6 languages.[104] The total number of Germanic languages is unknown, as some of them, especially East Germanic languages, disappeared shortly after the Migration Period.


Main articles: Italic languages and Italic peoples

The Italic languages are a subfamily of the Indo-European language family originally spoken by Italic peoples. They include the Romance languages derived from Latin (Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Portuguese, French, Romanian, Occitan, etc.); a number of extinct languages of the Italian Peninsula, including Umbrian, Oscan, Faliscan, South Picene; and Latin itself. At present, Latin and its daughter Romance languages are the only surviving languages of the Italic language family.

The main debate concerning the origin of the Italic languages is the same as that which preoccupied Greek studies for the last half of the 20th century. The Indo-Europeanists for Greek had hypothesized (see Dorian invasion, Proto-Greek language) that Greek originated outside Greece and was brought in by invaders. Analysis of the lexical items of Mycenaean Greek, an early form of Greek, raised the issue of whether Greek had been formed within Greece from Indo-European elements brought in by migrants or invaders, mixed with elements of indigenous languages. The issue was settled in favour of the origin of Greek being that of a language which had both developed from all of these elements and then also taken its recognisable form all within Greece.


Celt peoples

Main article: Celts

The Celts (/ˈkɛlts/, occasionally /ˈsɛlts/, see pronunciation of Celtic) or Kelts were an ethnolinguistic group of tribal societies in Iron Age and Medieval Europe who spoke Celtic languages and had a similar culture,[105] although the relationship between the ethnic, linguistic and cultural elements remains uncertain and controversial.

The earliest archaeological culture that may justifiably be considered Proto-Celtic is the Late Bronze Age Urnfield culture of Central Europe, which flourished from around 1200 BC.[106] Their fully Celtic[106] descendants in central Europe were the people of the Iron Age Hallstatt culture (c. 800–450 BC) named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria.[107] By the later La Tène period (c. 450 BC up to the Roman conquest), this Celtic culture had expanded by diffusion or migration to the British Isles (Insular Celts), France and The Low Countries (Gauls), Bohemia, Poland and much of Central Europe, the Iberian Peninsula (Celtiberians, Celtici and Gallaeci) and Italy (Golaseccans, Lepontii, Ligures and Cisalpine Gauls)[108] and, following the Gallic invasion of the Balkans in 279 BC, as far east as central Anatolia (Galatians).[109]

Celtic languages

The Celtic languages (usually pronounced /ˈkɛltɪk/ but sometimes /ˈsɛltɪk/)[110] are descended from Proto-Celtic, or "Common Celtic"; a branch of the greater Indo-European language family. The term "Celtic" was first used to describe this language group by Edward Lhuyd in 1707.[111]

Modern Celtic languages are mostly spoken on the north-western edge of Europe, notably in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, and the Isle of Man, and can be found spoken on Cape Breton Island. There are also a substantial number of Welsh speakers in the Patagonia area of Argentina. Some people speak Celtic languages in the other Celtic diaspora areas of the United States,[112] Canada, Australia,[113] and New Zealand.[114] In all these areas, the Celtic languages are now only spoken by minorities though there are continuing efforts at revitalization. Welsh is the only Celtic language not classified as "endangered" by UNESCO.

During the 1st millennium BC, they were spoken across much of Europe, in the Iberian Peninsula, from the Atlantic and North Sea coastlines, up to the Rhine valley and down the Danube valley to the Black Sea, the northern Balkan Peninsula and in central Asia Minor. The spread to Cape Breton and Patagonia occurred in modern times. Celtic languages, particularly Irish, were spoken in Australia before federation in 1901 and are still used there to some extent.[115]

Sea Peoples and the Bronze Age Collapse

Main articles: Sea Peoples and Bronze Age Collapse

In the 13th century BC, at the end of the Bronze Age, seafaring invaders from Europe and the Aegean known as the Sea Peoples entered the Eastern Mediterranean, invading Anatolia, Syria, Canaan, Cyprus and Egypt.[116][117] The invasions by the Sea Peoples ushered the Bronze Age Collapse, which resulted in the cultural collapse of Mycenean Greece, the Hittite Empire, the New Kingdom of Egypt and the civilizations of Canaan and Syria. The Sea Peoples are regarded as being composed of various groups of Indo-European peoples.[118]

Groups of the Sea Peoples mentioned in Egyptian documents are the Ekwesh, a group of Bronze Age Greeks (Achaeans; Ahhiyawa in Hittite texts); Teresh, Tyrrhenians (Tyrsenoi), known to later Greeks as sailors and pirates from Anatolia, ancestors of the Etruscans; Luka, an Anatolians coastal people of western Anatolia, also known from Hittite sources (their name survives in classical Lycia on the southwest coast of Anatolia); Sherden, probably Sardinians (the Sherden acted as mercenaries of the Egyptians in the Battle of Kadesh, 1299 BC); Shekelesh, probably identical with the Italic tribe called Siculi; and Peleset, generally believed to refer to the Philistines, who perhaps came from Crete and were the only major tribe of the Sea Peoples to settle permanently in Palestine.[117]


Main articles: Armenian language and Armenians

The Armenian Highland lies in the highlands surrounding Mount Ararat, the highest peak of the region. In the Bronze Age, several states flourished in the area of Greater Armenia, including the Hittite Empire (at the height of its power), Mitanni (South-Western historical Armenia), and Hayasa-Azzi (1600–1200 BC). Soon after Hayasa-Azzi were the Nairi (1400–1000 BC) and the Kingdom of Urartu (1000–600 BC), who successively established their sovereignty over the Armenian Highland. Each of the aforementioned nations and tribes participated in the ethnogenesis of the Armenian people.[119] Yerevan, the modern capital of Armenia, was founded in 782 BC by king Argishti I. A minority view also suggests that the Indo-European homeland may have been located in the Armenian Highland.[120]


Area of Balto-Slavic dialectic continuum (purple) with proposed material cultures correlating to speakers Balto-Slavic in Bronze Age (white). Red dots= archaic Slavic hydronyms


Main article: Slavs

The Slavs are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group living in Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Southeast Europe, North Asia and Central Asia, who speak the Indo-European Slavic languages, and share, to varying degrees, certain cultural traits and historical backgrounds. From the early 6th century they spread to inhabit most of Central and Eastern Europe and Southeast Europe. Slavic groups also ventured as far as Scandinavia, constituting elements amongst the Vikings;[121][note 12] whilst at the other geographic extreme, Slavic mercenaries fighting for the Byzantines and Arabs settled Asia Minor and even as far as Syria.[122] Later, East Slavs (specifically, Russians and Ukrainians) colonized Siberia[123] and Central Asia.[124] Every Slavic ethnicity has emigrated to other parts of the world.[125][126] Over half of Europe's territory is inhabited by Slavic-speaking communities.[127]

Modern nations and ethnic groups called by the ethnonym Slavs are considerably diverse both genetically and culturally, and relations between them – even within the individual ethnic groups themselves – are varied, ranging from a sense of connection to mutual feelings of hostility.[128]

Present-day Slavic people are classified into East Slavic (chiefly Belarusians, Russians and Ukrainians), West Slavic (chiefly Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Wends and Sorbs), and South Slavic (chiefly Bosniaks, Bulgarians, Croats, Goranis, Macedonians, Montenegrins, Serbs and Slovenes).[129] For a more comprehensive list, see the ethnocultural subdivisions.


Main article: Balts

The Balts or Baltic peoples (Lithuanian: baltai, Latvian: balti) are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group who speak the Baltic languages, a branch of the Indo-European language family, which was originally spoken by tribes living in area east of Jutland peninsula in the west and Moscow, Oka and Volga rivers basins in the east. One of the features of Baltic languages is the number of conservative or archaic features retained.[130] Among the Baltic peoples are modern Lithuanians, Latvians (including Latgalians) — all Eastern Balts — as well as the Old Prussians, Yotvingians and Galindians — the Western Balts — whose people also survived, but their languages and cultures are now extinct, and are now being assimilated into the Eastern Baltic community.

Balto-Slavic language group

The Balto-Slavic language group traditionally comprises the Baltic and Slavic languages, belonging to the Indo-European family of languages. Baltic and Slavic languages share several linguistic traits not found in any other Indo-European branch, which points to a period of common development. Most Indo-Europeanists classify Baltic and Slavic languages into a single branch, even though some details of the nature of their relationship remain in dispute[note 13] in some circles, usually due to political controversies.[131] Some linguists, however, have recently suggested that Balto-Slavic should be split into three equidistant nodes: Eastern Baltic, Western Baltic and Slavic.[note 14][note 15]

A Proto-Balto-Slavic language is reconstructable by the comparative method, descending from Proto-Indo-European by means of well-defined sound laws, and out of which modern Slavic and Baltic languages descended. One particularly innovative dialect separated from the Balto-Slavic dialect continuum and became ancestral to the Proto-Slavic language, from which all Slavic languages descended.[132]

Hellenic Greek

A reconstruction of the 3rd-millennium BC "Proto-Greek area", according to Bulgarian linguist Vladimir Georgiev.

Hellenic is the branch of the Indo-European language family that includes Greek.[133] In traditional classifications, Hellenic consists of Greek alone,[134][135] but some linguists group Greek together with various ancient languages thought to have been closely related or distinguish varieties of Greek that are distinct enough to be considered separate languages.[136][137]

The Proto-Greeks probably arrived at the area now called Greece, in the southern tip of the Balkan peninsula, at the 3rd millennium BC,[138][139] though a later migration by sea from eastern Anatolia (modern Armenia), has also been suggested.[140] The sequence of migrations into the Greek mainland during the 2nd millennium BC has to be reconstructed on the basis of the ancient Greek dialects, as they presented themselves centuries later and are therefore subject to some uncertainties. There were at least two migrations, the first being the Ionians and Aeolians, which resulted in Mycenaean Greece by the 16th century BC,[141][142] and the second, the Dorian invasion, around the 11th century BC, displacing the Arcadocypriot dialects, which descended from the Mycenaean period. Both migrations occur at incisive periods, the Mycenaean at the transition to the Late Bronze Age and the Doric at the Bronze Age collapse.


Main article: Albanian language

Albanian (shqip [ʃcip] or gjuha shqipe [ˈɟuha ˈʃcipɛ], meaning Albanian language) is an Indo-European language spoken by approximately 7.4 million people, primarily in Albania, Kosovo, the Republic of Macedonia and Greece, but also in other areas of the Balkans in which there is an Albanian population, including Montenegro and Serbia (Presevo Valley). Centuries-old communities speaking Albanian-based dialects can be found scattered in Greece, southern Italy,[143] Sicily, and Ukraine.[144] As a result of a modern diaspora, there are also Albanian speakers elsewhere in those countries and in other parts of the world, including Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany, Austria and Hungary, United Kingdom, Turkey, Australia, New Zealand, Netherlands, Singapore, Brazil, Canada, and the United States.

The earliest written document that mentions the Albanian language is a late 13th-century crime report from Dubrovnik. The first audio recording of the Albanian language was made by Norbert Jokl on 4 April 1914 in Vienna.[145]


Main articles: Thracians and Thracian languages


Main articles: Dacians and Dacian language


Main articles: Illyrians and Illyrian languages


Main articles: Phrygians and Phrygian language

Indo-Iranian migrations

Indo-Iranian peoples are a grouping of ethnic groups consisting of the Indo-Aryan, Iranian, Dardic and Nuristani peoples; that is, speakers of Indo-Iranian languages, a major branch of the Indo-European language family.

The Proto-Indo-Iranians are commonly identified with the Sintashta culture and the subsequent Andronovo culture within the broader Andronovo horizon, and their homeland with an area of the Eurasian steppe that borders the Ural River on the west, the Tian Shan on the east.

The Indo-Iranians interacted with the Bactria-Magiana Culture, also called "Bactria-Magiana Archaeological Complex". Proto-Indo-Iranian arose due to this influence.[146] The Indo-Iranians also borrowed their distinctive religious beliefs and practices from this culture.[146]

The Indo-Iranian migrations took place in two waves.[147][148] The first wave consisted of the Indo-Aryan migration into the Levant, founding the Mittani kingdom, and a migration south-eastward of the Vedic people, over the Hindu Kush into northern India.[48] The Indo-Aryans split-off around 1800-1600 BCE from the Iranians,[65] where-after they were defeated and split into two groups by the Iranians,[149] who dominated the Central Eurasian steppe zone[150] and "chased [the Indo-Aryans] to the extremities of Central Eurasia."[150] One group were the Indo-Aryans who founded the Mitanni kingdom in northern Syria;[151] (c. 1500-1300 BCE) the other group were the Vedic people.[152] Christopher I. Beckwith suggests that the Wusun, an Indo-European Europoid people of Inner Asia in antiquity, were also of Indo-Aryan origin.[153]

The second wave is interpreted as the Iranian wave,[154] and took place in the third stage of the Indo-European migrations.[48]

Sintashta-Petrovka and Andronovo culture

Sintashta-Petrovka culture

Main article: Sintashta culture

The Sintashta culture, also known as the Sintashta-Petrovka culture[155] or Sintashta-Arkaim culture,[156] is a Bronze Age archaeological culture of the northern Eurasian steppe on the borders of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, dated to the period 21001800 BCE.[157] It is probably the archaeological manifestation of the Indo-Iranian language group.[158]

The Sintashta culture emerged from the interaction of two antecedent cultures. Its immediate predecessor in the Ural-Tobol steppe was the Poltavka culture, an offshoot of the cattle-herding Yamnaya horizon that moved east into the region between 2800 and 2600 BCE. Several Sintashta towns were built over older Poltovka settlements or close to Poltovka cemeteries, and Poltovka motifs are common on Sintashta pottery. Sintashta material culture also shows the influence of the late Abashevo culture, a collection of Corded Ware settlements in the forest steppe zone north of the Sintashta region that were also predominantly pastoralist.[159] Allentoft et al. (2015) also found close autosomal genetic relationship between peoples of Corded Ware culture and Sintashta culture.[160]

The earliest known chariots have been found in Sintashta burials, and the culture is considered a strong candidate for the origin of the technology, which spread throughout the Old World and played an important role in ancient warfare.[161] Sintashta settlements are also remarkable for the intensity of copper mining and bronze metallurgy carried out there, which is unusual for a steppe culture.[162]

Because of the difficulty of identifying the remains of Sintashta sites beneath those of later settlements, the culture was only recently distinguished from the Andronovo culture.[156] It is now recognised as a separate entity forming part of the 'Andronovo horizon'.[155]

Andronovo culture

Main article: Andronovo culture

The Andronovo culture is a collection of similar local Bronze Age Indo-Iranian cultures that flourished c. 1800–1400 BCE in western Siberia and the west Asiatic steppe. It is probably better termed an archaeological complex or archaeological horizon. The name derives from the village of Andronovo (55°53′N 55°42′E / 55.883°N 55.700°E / 55.883; 55.700), where in 1914, several graves were discovered, with skeletons in crouched positions, buried with richly decorated pottery. The older Sintashta culture (2100–1800), formerly included within the Andronovo culture, is now considered separately, but regarded as its predecessor, and accepted as part of the wider Andronovo horizon.

Sub-cultures have been distinguished:

The geographical extent of the culture is vast and difficult to delineate exactly. On its western fringes, it overlaps with the approximately contemporaneous, but distinct, Srubna culture in the Volga-Ural interfluvial. To the east, it reaches into the Minusinsk depression, with some sites as far west as the southern Ural Mountains,[163] overlapping with the area of the earlier Afanasevo culture.[164] Additional sites are scattered as far south as the Koppet Dag (Turkmenistan), the Pamir (Tajikistan) and the Tian Shan (Kyrgyzstan). The northern boundary vaguely corresponds to the beginning of the Taiga.[163] In the Volga basin, interaction with the Srubna culture was the most intense and prolonged, and Federovo style pottery is found as far west as Volgograd.

Towards the middle of the 2nd millennium, the Andronovo cultures begin to move intensively eastwards. They mined deposits of copper ore in the Altai Mountains and lived in villages of as many as ten sunken log cabin houses measuring up to 30m by 60m in size. Burials were made in stone cists or stone enclosures with buried timber chambers.

In other respects, the economy was pastoral, based on cattle, horses, sheep, and goats.[163] While agricultural use has been posited, no clear evidence has been presented.

Most researchers associate the Andronovo horizon with early Indo-Iranian languages, though it may have overlapped the early Uralic-speaking area at its northern fringe.

Bactria-Magiana Culture

Main article: BMAC

The Bactria-Magiana Culture, also called "Bactria-Magiana Archaeological Complex", was a non-Indo-European culture which influenced the Indo-European groups of the second stage of the Indo-European migrations.[146] It was centered in what is nowadays northwestern Afghanistan and southern Turkmenistan.[146] Proto-Indo-Iranian arose due to this influence.[146]

The Indo-Iranians also borrowed their distinctive religious beliefs and practices from this culture.[146] According to Anthony, the Old Indic religion probably emerged among Indo-European immigrants in the contact zone between the Zeravshan River (present-day Uzbekistan) and (present-day) Iran.[165] It was "a syncretic mixture of old Central Asian and new Indo-European elements",[165] which borrowed "distinctive religious beliefs and practices"[146] from the Bactria–Margiana Culture.[146] At least 383 non-Indo-European words were borrowed from this culture, including the god Indra and the ritual drink Soma.[166]

Indo-Aryan migration

Syria - Mitanni

Map of the Near East c. 1400 BC showing the Kingdom of Mitanni at its greatest extent
Main article: Mitanni

Mitanni (Hittite cuneiformKURURUMi-ta-an-ni), also Mittani (Mi-it-ta-ni) or Hanigalbat (Assyrian Hanigalbat, Khanigalbat cuneiform Ḫa-ni-gal-bat) or Naharin in ancient Egyptian texts was an Hurrian-speaking state in northern Syria and south-east Anatolia from c. 1500 BC1300 BC. Founded by an Indo-Aryan ruling class governing a predominantly Hurrian population, Mitanni came to be a regional power after the Hittite destruction of Amorite[167] Babylon and a series of ineffectual Assyrian kings created a power vacuum in Mesopotamia.

At the beginning of its history, Mitanni's major rival was Egypt under the Thutmosids. However, with the ascent of the Hittite empire, Mitanni and Egypt made an alliance to protect their mutual interests from the threat of Hittite domination. At the height of its power, during the 14th century BC, Mitanni had outposts centered around its capital, Washukanni, whose location has been determined by archaeologists to be on the headwaters of the Khabur River. Eventually, Mitanni succumbed to Hittite and later Assyrian attacks, and was reduced to the status of a province of the Middle Assyrian Empire.

Their sphere of influence is shown in Hurrian place names, personal names and the spread through Syria and the Levant of a distinct pottery type.

India - Vedic culture

Main articles: Vedic period and Hinduism

The Indo-Aryan peoples started to migrate into north-western India around 1500 BCE, as a slow diffusion during the Late Harappan period, establishing the Vedic religion during the Vedic period (c. 1500–500 BCE).

The research on the Indo-Aryan migrations began with the study of the Rig Veda in the mid-19th century by Max Muller, and gradually evolved from a theory of a large scale invasion of a racially and technologically superior people to being a slow diffusion of small numbers of nomadic people that had a disproportionate societal impact on a large urban population. Contemporary claims of Indo-Aryan migrations are drawn from linguistic,[168] archaeological, literary and cultural sources.

During the early part of the Vedic period, the Indo-Aryans settled into northern India, bringing with them their specific religious traditions. The associated culture[note 16] was initially a tribal, pastoral society centred in the northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinent; it spread after 1200 BCE to the Ganges Plain, as it was shaped by increasing settled agriculture, a hierarchy of four social classes, and the emergence of monarchical, state-level polities.[170][171]

The end of the Vedic period witnessed the rise of large, urbanized states as well as of shramana movements (including Jainism and Buddhism) which challenged the Vedic orthodoxy.[172] Around the beginning of the Common Era, the Vedic tradition formed one of the main constituents of the so-called "Hindu synthesis"[173]

Inner Asia - Wusun

Main article: Wusun

According to Christopher I. Beckwith the Wusun, an Indo-European Europoid people of Inner Asia in antiquity, were also of Indo-Aryan origin.[153] From the Chinese term Wusun, Beckwith reconstructs the Old Chinese *âswin, which he compares to the Old Indic aśvin "the horsemen," the name of the Rigvedic twin equestrian gods.[153] Beckwith suggests that the Wusun were an eastern remnant of the Indo-Aryans, who had been suddenly pushed to the extremeties of the Eurasian Steppe by the Iranian peoples in the 2nd millennium BC.[174]

The Wusun are first mentioned by Chinese sources as vassals in the Tarim Basin of the Yuezhi,[175] another Indo-European Europoid people of possible Tocharian stock.[75][176] Around 175 BC, the Yuezhi were utterly defeated by the Xiongnu, also former vassals of the Yuezhi.[176][177] The Yuezhi subsequently attacked the Wusun and killed their king (Kunmo Chinese: 昆彌 or Kunmi Chinese: 昆莫) Nandoumi (Chinese: 難兜靡), capturing the Ili Valley from the Saka (Scythians) shortly afterwards.[177] In return the Wusun settled in the former territories of the Yuezhi as vassals of the Xiongnu.[177][178] The son of Nandoumi was adopted by the Xiongnu king and made leader of the Wusun.[178]

Around 130 BC he attacked and utterly defeated the Yuezhi, settling the Wusun in the Ili Valley.[178] After the Yuezhi were defeated by the Xiongnu, in the 2nd century BC, a small group, known as the Little Yuezhi, fled to the south, while the majority migrated west to the Ili Valley, where they displaced the Sakas (Scythians). Driven from the Ili Valley shortly afterwards by the Wusun, the Yuezhi migrated to Sogdia and then Bactria, where they are often identified with the Tókharoi (Τοχάριοι) and Asioi of Classical sources. They then expanded into northern South Asia, where one branch of the Yuezhi founded the Kushan Empire. The Kushan empire stretched from Turfan in the Tarim Basin to Pataliputra on the Gangetic plain at its greatest extent, and played an important role in the development of the Silk Road and the transmission of Buddhism to China.

Soon after 130 BCE the Wusun became independent of the Xiongnu, becoming trusted vassals of the Han Dynasty and powerful force in the region for centuries.[178] With the emerging steppe federations of the Rouran, the Wusun migrated into the Pamir Mountains in the 5th century AD.[177] They are last mentioned in 938 AD when a Wusun chieftain paid tribute to the Liao dynasty.[177]

Mesopotamia - Kassites

The appearance of the Kassites in Mesopotamia in the 18th century BC has been connected to the contemporary Indo-European expansion into the region at the time.[179][180][181]

The Kassites gained control of Babylonia after the Hittite sack of the city in 1595 BC (i.e. 1531 BC per the short chronology), and established a dynasty based in Dur-Kurigalzu.[182][183][184] The Kassites were members of a small military aristocracy but were efficient rulers and not locally unpopular.[182] The horse, which the Kassites worshipped, first came into use in Babylonia at this time.[182] The Kassites were polytheistic, and the name of some 30 gods are known.[184]

The Kassite language has not been classified.[184] However, several Kassite leaders bore Indo-European names,[185] and the Kassites worshipped several Indo-Aryan gods,[186][187] suggesting that the Kassites were under significant Indo-European influence.[186][187] The reign of the Kassites laid the essential groundwork for the development of subsequent Babylonian culture.[184]

Egypt - Hyksos

The migration of the Hyksos from the Levant to Egypt in the 18th century BC has been contected to the contemporary Indo-European expansion into the Middle East at the time.[179][188][189]

Beginning around 1630 BC, the Hyksos, possibly related to the Amorites,[190] seized control of Egypt, establishing their Fifteenth Dynasty with its capital at Avaris.[191][192] Although vilified in later Egyptian texts, the Hyksos became highly Egyptianized and ruled as pharaohs listed as legitimate kings in the Turin Papyrus.[191] The Hyksos capital was seized around 1521 BC by the Theban Ahmose, founder of the Eighteenth Dynasty, and the Hyksos were expelled.[182] The Hyksos may have been related to the later Habiru, etymologically connected to the term Hebrew.[190]

The Hyksos practiced horse burials, and their chief deity, their native storm god, became associated with the Egyptian storm and desert god, Seth.[191] Although most Hyksos names seem Semitic, the Hyksos also included Hurrians,[182][193] who, while speaking an isolated language, were under the rule and influence of Indo-Aryans.[193]

The Hyksos brought several technical improvements to Egypt, as well as cultural infusions such as new musical instruments and foreign loan words.[192] The changes introduced include new techniques of bronze working and pottery, new breeds of animals, and new crops.[192] In warfare, they introduced the horse and chariot, the composite bow, improved battle axes, and advanced fortification techniques.[192] Because of these cultural advances, Hyksos rule brought Egypt out of its technological backwardness and was decisive for Egypt’s later empire in the Middle East.[192]

Levant - Maryuannu

In the mid-2nd millennium BC, control of the Levant was seized by people known as Maryannu in Akkadian texts.[186] Many of these intruders had Indo-Aryan names.[186] The Amarna letters show that in the early 14th century BC, most of the important cities of Palestine and Syria were controlled by men of either Indo-Aryan or Hurrian (who were under Indo-Aryan rule and influence at the time[193]) names.[186] Among the Indo-Aryan rulers of Palestine mentioned in the Amarna letters we find Induruta as lord of Achshaph, Biridiya as lord of Megiddo, Widia as lord of Ashkelon, Shuwardata as lord of Hebron, Zatatna and Surata as lords of Acre, Biryawaza as lord of Damascus, and other places, while Abdu-Heba, lord of Jerusalem has a Hurrian name.[186]


Distribution of Iranian peoples in 100 BC: shown is Sarmatia, Scythia, Bactria and the Parthian Empire

Iranian plateau

Main article: Iranian peoples

The Iranian peoples[note 17] (also known as Iranic peoples) are an Indo-European ethno-linguistic group that comprise the speakers of Iranian languages.[194] Their historical areas of settlement were on the Iranian plateau (mainly Iran, Azerbaijan and Afghanistan) and certain neighbouring areas of Asia (such as parts of the Caucasus, Eastern Turkey, Northeast Syria, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Bahrain, Oman, northern Iraq, Northwestern and Western Pakistan) reflecting changing geopolitical range of the Persian empires and the Iranian history.[187][195]

Their current distribution spreads across the Iranian plateau, and stretches from the Caucasus in the north to the Persian Gulf in the south, and from the Indus River in the east to eastern Turkey in the west – a region that is sometimes called the "Iranian cultural continent", or Greater Iran by some scholars, and represents the extent of the Iranian languages and significant influence of the Iranian peoples, through the geopolitical reach of the Iranian empire.[196]

The Iranians comprise the present day Persians, Lurs, Ossetians, Kurds, Pashtuns, Balochs, Tajiks and their sub-groups of the historic Medes, Massagetaes, Sarmatians, Scythians, Parthians, Alans, Bactrians, Soghdians and other people of Central Asia, the Caucasus and the Iranian plateau. Another possible group are the Cimmerians who are mostly supposed to have been related to either Iranian or Thracian speaking groups, or at least to have been ruled by an Iranian elite.


Main articles: Scythia and Scythians

Alternative hypotheses

Anatolian hypothesis

The Anatolian hypothesis proposes that the dispersal of Proto-Indo-Europeans originated in Neolithic Anatolia. The hypothesis suggests that the speakers of the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) lived in Anatolia during the Neolithic era, and associates the distribution of historical Indo-European languages with the expansion during the Neolithic revolution during the 7th and 6th millennia BC. The alternative and more academically favored view is the Kurgan hypothesis.

The main proponent of the Anatolian hypothesis was Colin Renfrew, who in 1987 suggested a peaceful Indo-Europeanization of Europe from Anatolia from around 7000 BC with the advance of farming by demic diffusion ("wave of advance"). Accordingly, most of the inhabitants of Neolithic Europe would have spoken Indo-European languages, and later migrations would at best have replaced these Indo-European varieties with other Indo-European varieties.[197]

The main strength of the farming hypothesis lies in its linking of the spread of Indo-European languages with an archaeologically known event (the spread of farming) that is often assumed as involving significant population shifts.

Paleolithic Continuity Paradigm

The "Paleolithic Continuity Paradigm" is a hypothesis suggesting that the Proto-Indo-European language (PIE) can be traced back to the Upper Paleolithic, several millennia earlier than the Chalcolithic or at the most Neolithic estimates in other scenarios of Proto-Indo-European origins. Its main proponents are Marcel Otte, Alexander Häusler, and Mario Alinei.

The PCT posits that the advent of Indo-European languages should be linked to the arrival of Homo sapiens in Europe and Asia from Africa in the Upper Paleolithic.[web 16] Employing "lexical periodization", Alinei arrives at a timeline deeper than even that of Colin Renfrew's Anatolian hypothesis.[web 16][note 18]

Since 2004, an informal workgroup of scholars who support the Paleolithic Continuity hypothesis has been held online.[web 17] Apart from Alinei himself, its leading members (referred to as "Scientific Committee" in the website) are linguists Xaverio Ballester (University of Valencia) and Francesco Benozzo (University of Bologna). Also included are prehistorian Marcel Otte (Université de Liège) and anthropologist Henry Harpending (University of Utah).[web 16]

It is not listed by Mallory among the proposals for the origins of the Indo-European languages that are widely discussed and considered credible within academia.[198]

Indian origins

Main article: Indigenous Aryans

The notion of Indigenous Aryans posits that speakers of Indo-Aryan languages are "indigenous" to the Indian subcontinent. Scholars like Jim G. Shaffer and B.B. Lal note the absence of archaeological remains of an Aryan "conquest", and the high degree of physical continuity between Harappan and Post-Harappan society.[web 18] They support the controversial and unsubstantiated[web 18] hypothesis that the Aryan civilization was not introduced by Aryan migrations, but originated in pre-Vedic India.[web 18]

In recent years, the concept of "Indigenous Aryans" has been increasingly conflated with an "Out of India" origin of the Indo-European language family. This contrasts with the model of Indo-Aryan migration which posits that Indo-Aryan tribes migrated to India from Central Asia. Some furthermore claim that all Indo-European languages originated in India.[note 19] These claims remain problematic.[note 20]

See also


  1. Lazaridis et al. (2016): "The spread of Near Eastern ancestry into the Eurasian steppe was previously inferred without access to ancient samples, by hypothesizing a population related to present-day Armenians as a source."[11] Lazaridis et al. (2016) refer to haak et al. (2015).

    Eurogenes Blog: "Lazaridis et al. show that Early to Middle Bronze Age steppe groups, including Yamnaya, tagged by them as Steppe EMBA, are best modeled with formal statistics as a mixture of Eastern European Hunter-Gatherers (EHG) and Chalcolithic farmers from western Iran. The mixture ratios are 56.8/43.2, respectively. However, they add that a model of Steppe EMBA as a three-way mixture between EHG, the Chalcolithic farmers and Caucasus Hunter-Gatherers (CHG) is also a good fit and plausible."[12]

    See also:
    * Stephanie Dutchen (2014), New Branch Added to European Family Tree. Genetic analysis reveals Europeans descended from at least three ancient groups
    * Richard Gray (2015), Modern Europeans descend from FOUR groups of hunter-gatherers: New strand of DNA discovered in the Caucasus is the 'missing piece in the ancestry puzzle'
    * Dieneke's Anthropology Blog, West_Asian in the flesh (hunter-gatherers from Georgia) (Jones et al. 2015)
    * For what they were... we are (2016), Caucasus and Swiss hunter-gatherer genomes
  2. Jones et al. (2015) further note that "Caucasus hunter-gatherers (CHG) belong to a distinct ancient clade that split from western hunter-gatherers ~45 kya, shortly after the expansion of anatomically modern humans into Europe and from the ancestors of Neolithic farmers ~25 kya, around the Last Glacial Maximum."[10]
  3. See also:
    * eurogenes.blogspot, The genetic structure of the world's first farmers (Lazaridis et al. preprint)
    * For what they were... we are (2016) Ancient genomes from Neolithic West Asia
  4. Kortlandt (2010) refers to Kortlandt, Frederik. 2007b. C.C. Uhlenbeck on Indo-European, Uralic and Caucasian.
  5. The "Sogdiana hypothesis" of Johanna Nichols places the homeland in the 4th or 5th millennium BCE to the east of the Caspian Sea, in the area of ancient Bactria-Sogdiana.[15][16] According to Bernard Sergent the lithic assemblage of the first Kurgan culture in Ukraine (Sredni Stog II), which originated from the Volga and South Urals, recalls that of the Mesolithic-Neolithic sites to the east of the Caspian sea, Dam Dam Chesme II and the cave of Djebel.[17] He places the roots of the Gimbutas' Kurgan cradle of Indo-Europeans in a more southern cradle, and adds that the Djebel material is related to a Paleolithic material of Northwestern Iran, the Zarzian culture, dated 10,000–8,500 BC, and in the more ancient Kebarian of the Near East. He concludes that more than 10,000 years ago the Indo-Europeans were a small people grammatically, phonetically and lexically close to Semitic-Hamitic populations of the Near East.[18]
  6. According to Gimbutas, Indigenous groups here refers to Old Europe (the term Old Europe is used for Pre-Indo-European Europe during the Neolithic, Chalcolithic and Copper ages) existed for nearly 3 millennia (c. 6500-3500 B.C.). Notabely, Narva culture, Funnelbeaker culture, Linear Pottery culture, Cardium pottery, Vinča culture, early Helladic, Minoans etc.
  7. Marija Gimbutas: "Three millennium long traditions were truncated by two waves of semi-nomadic horse riding people from the east: the towns and villages disintegrated, the magnificent painted pottery vanished; so did the shrines, frescoes, sculptures, symbols and script. The archaeological record not only by the abrupt absences of the magnificent painted pottery and figurines and the termination of sign use, but by the equally abrupt appearance of thrusting weapons and horses infiltrating the Danubian Valley and other major grasslands of the Balkans and Central Europe. Their arrival initiated a dramatic shift in the prehistory of Europe, a change in social structure and in residence patterns, in art and in religion and it was a decisive factor in the formation of Europe’s last 5,000 years.
  8. Additionally, "This "Old Europe"social structure contrasted with the Indo-European Kurgans who were mobile and non-egalitarian; their system was accordingly ranked into a three category hierarchy: warrior priest rulers, warrior nobility, and laborers/agriculturalists at the bottom. The IE Kurgans were also warlike, lived in smaller villages at times, and had an ideology that centered on the virile male. Their gods were often heroic warriors of the shining and thunderous sky rather than peaceful mother goddesses of birth and regeneration. In sum, when comparing and contrasting these two groups through the eyes of Gimbutas, it can be said that, “the Old Europeans put no emphasis on dangerous weapons whereas the Kurgans glorified the sharp blade” (Gimbutas 1997g: 241). What eventually occurred was the “drastic upheaval of Old Europe”.
  9. Additionally, "Old Europeans" often dwelled in “large agglomerations”, were sedentary-horticulturalist, had an ideology which “focused on the eternal aspects of birth, death, and regeneration, symbolized by the feminine principle, a mother creatrix”, buried their dead in communal megalith graves and were generally peaceful.[27]
  10. David Anthony (1995): "Language shift can be understood best as a social strategy through which individuals and groups compete for positions of prestige, power, and domestic security [...] What is important, then, is not just dominance, but vertical social mobility and a linkage between language and access to positions of prestige and power [...] A relatively small immigrant elite population can encourage widespread language shift among numerically dominant indigenes in a non-state or pre-state context if the elite employs a specific combination of encouragements and punishments. Ethnohistorical cases [...] demonstrate that small elite groups have successfully imposed their languages in non-state situations."[41]
  11. Note the dislocation of the Indus Valley Civilisation prior to the start of the Indo-Aryan migrations into northern India, and the onset of Sanskritisation with the rise of the Kuru kingdom, as described by Michael Witzel.[46] Note also that the "Ancestral North Indians" and "Ancestral South Indians"[web 4][web 5] mixed between 4,200 to 1,900 years ago (2200 BCE-100 CE), whereafter a shift to endogamy took place.[47]
  12. The origin of Rus. O Pritsak; 1981; pp 14, 27–28. Pritsak argues that the eastern Vikings- the Rus- were a social group of seafaring nomads which consisted of not only Scandinavians, but also Frisians, Balts, Slavs and Finns.
  13. "Balto-Slavic languages. Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online". Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. Retrieved 10 December 2012. Those scholars who accept the Balto-Slavic hypothesis attribute the large number of close similarities in the vocabulary, grammar, and sound systems of the Baltic and Slavic languages to development from a common ancestral language after the breakup of Proto-Indo-European. Those scholars who reject the hypothesis believe that the similarities are the result of parallel development and of mutual influence during a long period of contact.
  14. Kortlandt, Frederik (2009), Baltica & Balto-Slavica, p. 5, Though Prussian is undoubtedly closer to the East Baltic languages than to Slavic, the characteristic features of the Baltic languages seem to be either retentions or results of parallel development and cultural interaction. Thus I assume that Balto-Slavic split into three identifiable branches, each of which followed its own course of development.
  15. Derksen, Rick (2008), Etymological Dictionary of the Slavic Inherited Lexicon, p. 20, "I am not convinced that it is justified to reconstruct a Proto-Baltic stage. The term Proto-Baltic is used for convenience’s sake.
  16. Archaeological cultures identified with phases of Vedic culture include the Ochre Coloured Pottery culture, the Gandhara Grave culture, the Black and red ware culture and the Painted Grey Ware culture.[169]
  17. R.N Frye, "IRAN v. PEOPLE OF IRAN" in Encycloapedia Iranica. "In the following discussion of "Iranian peoples," the term "Iranian" may be understood in two ways. It is, first of all, a linguistic classification, intended to designate any society which inherited or adopted, and transmitted, an Iranian language. The set of Iranian-speaking peoples is thus considered a kind of unity, in spite of their distinct lineage identities plus all the factors which may have further differentiated any one group’s sense of self."
  18. Mario Alinei: "The sharp, and now at last admitted even by traditionalists (Villar 1991) [Villar, Francisco (1991), Los indoeuropeos y los orígines de Europa. Lenguaje y historia, Madrid, Gredos] differentiation of farming terminology in the different IE languages, while absolutely unexplainable in the context of Renfrew’s NDT, provides yet another fundamental proof that the differentiation of IE languages goes back to remote prehistory."[web 16]
  19. Bryant: "It must be stated immediately that there is an unavoidable corollary of an Indigenist position. If the Indo-Aryan languages did not come from outside South Asia, this necessarily entails that India was the original homeland of all the other Indo-European languages."[199]
  20. Bryant: "There is at least a series of archaeological cultures that can be traced approaching the Indian subcontinent, even if discontinuous, which does not seem to be the case for any hypothetical east-to-west emigration."[200]


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Further reading

External links

Mainstream theories
Alternative theories
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